November 20, 2018

700 out of 14 million: Why the fate of Malmö’s Jews matters

I can’t say I was shocked by the phone call and emails from Scandinavia that I received one night after Yom Kippur, telling me that the Jewish Community Center in Malmö, Sweden, had been attacked with an explosive device and bricks through its reinforced entrance just after midnight on Sept. 28. No casualties, thank G-d, this time.

I am not surprised, because precious little has changed since the Wiesenthal Center’s mission to Malmö in December 2011 where we had face-to-face meetings with the city’s police chief, prosecutor and its mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, who long ago made a decision to let the 700 Jewish citizens twist in the wind in order to curry favor with Islamist extremists and virulent opponents of Israel. There are approximately 70,000 Muslims in Malmö.

Incredible, here was a democratically elected administration that had no budget and no stomach to protect its Jews. Here was a democratically elected official who went out of his way to inject the conflict in the Holy Land into the narrative and onto the streets of his city.

Following the shocking 2010 firebombing of a synagogue there, along with assaults on a pro-Israel demonstration and a series of other anti-Semitic incidents, the Simon Wiesenthal Center had had enough and slapped a Travel Advisory on Malmö. A few months ago, Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. State Department’s Envoy on Anti-Semitism, traveled to Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, to make a direct and personal plea to Mayor Reepalu, on behalf of the Obama Administration, to change course. He didn’t. As a result, that ban still stands today, and unless and until local, or if necessary, national authorities can secure the Jewish community and its institutions, the ban will remain.

[Related: Swedish police arrest two after explosion rocks Jewish building]

[Related: My Shabbat in Malmo by Rabbi Abraham Cooper]


Still, it is fair to ask, in the greater scheme of things, with Iran’s looming existential threat to Israel, with 700,000 French Jews on edge after the terrorist murders at a Toulouse Jewish school of a young rabbi and three kids– including an eight year-old girl executed at point-blank range—do the 700 Jews of Malmö merit our continued concern and activism?

Maybe they should just leave…Considering that young Rabbi Kesselman and his family are serially abused by anti-Semites with nary an arrest, that just last week his car was singled out for vandalism with the word Palestina engraved on its side, perhaps Daisy Balkin Rung, who was born in Malmö, is right when she posted a call on a Swedish TV blog for Jews to leave Malmö before it is too late, making a parallel to Germany in the 1930s. “I call upon all Jews in Malmö to leave the city,” she wrote.

Perhaps, in the end, the Jews may yet have to leave, but if they do — Malmö, Sweden, could become a template for other European cities, in other democracies. If Jews are driven from Malmo, it will empower every anti-Semite, neo-Nazi, Islamist fanatic, and lone wolf terrorist in every western democracy to target US.

While we can be grateful that no one was hurt in this latest attack, there is a Jewish dictum: Ayn Soamchin Al Haness—we cannot rely on miracles to secure the safety of Jewish children. Clearly time is running out for Malmö.

Let us, the 14,000,000, help the 700 draw the line and force the powers that be in Sweden to finally provide equal protection under the law to their Jewish citizens. If they fail to do so, our Jewish brothers and sisters will find new lives in Israel and elsewhere—that is, after all, the Jewish way—but Sweden’s traditions of democratic rule of law, fairness, and tolerance will be left in shambles.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center